Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Review of "The Robber Bridegroom" at Villanova; published 4-04-07 in the Main Line Ticket

Any production of a musical comedy populated by backwoods bandits, wicked stepmothers, a not-so-innocent maiden and her dimwitted father, and motivated along it’s plot by a case of mistaken identities, quickly runs the risk of appearing ridiculous. Which is precisely what happens in Villanova’s production of Alfred Uhry’s and Robert Waldman’s bluegrass musical “The Robber Bridegroom.” Think Deliverance meets Hee-Haw.

Billed as a dark Southern fairy tale, the musical revolves around the romance of gentleman bandit Jamie Lockhart (Charles Illingworth) and Rosamund Musgrove (Janet McWilliams), who meet in the woods of Mississippi and quickly fall in love. Things quickly go awry when Rosamund’s father Clement (Andy Joos) wants to marry her to Lockhart, but in his less-charming everyday persona. Rosamund’s stepmother Salome (Amy Walton) wants her out of the way to seduce Lockhart for herself, and hires a simpleton named Goat to kill her. Throw in a pair of goofy outlaws (one is only a disembodied head—that sings nonetheless) and a talking bird, and things run downhill pretty quick.

But in a good way, as director Peter Reynolds’ decision to make even the seamy elements of this story as ridiculous as possible, coupled with strong performances, results in a highly enjoyable production.

A little more Broadway than bluegrass, Illingworth charms as Lockhart; upstaged only by the syrupy down-home numbers “Ain’t Nothin Up” and “Sleepy Man” sung sweetly by the very promising McWilliams, and the hysterical playing by Walton, decked out (like most of the cast) in mangy costumes and blackened teeth. Nothing was less appetizing then this ragged woman offering to take Lockhart on a “stroll along her thorn bush gardens, and little was funnier than watching everyone draw back in disgust.

The ensemble energizes and creates most of the mood, and in Reynolds’ inventive staging (helped by Jerold R. Forsyth’s nimble lighting), becomes a forest, a meadow, and even a raft on the Mississippi River.

The only dead moments come from the story itself, which seems that much slower against the backdrop of the toe-tapping score and rich singing. The cast could’ve done more to enliven the story, and the bland choreography did little to help; and the good decision to take a dark comedy and turn it into a campy fairy tale almost gets away from them.

But then the music would begin, the cast start to sing, and the silliness once again turn delightful.

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